California is a hot spot in the culinary industry. There are over 1.6 million jobs in restaurants and food service in the state with another 172,000 expected by 2026. Formal education in the culinary arts can make a job applicant stand out and get noticed, landing a great job in an exciting field.
We put together a list of the top 10 best culinary schools in California. Schools featured in our list offer externship or internship opportunities, hands-on instruction, professional development opportunities, and have a positive reputation in the industry. Many of the programs on our list are accredited by the American Culinary Federation, an indication of a quality culinary program.
#10. Institute of Technology Clovis-Clovis, California
Culinary Programs: AOS Degree in Culinary Arts; Culinary Arts Professional Diploma (both exemplary); Baking and Pastry Specialist
The Clovis Culinary Arts School at the Institute of Technology offers state-of-the- art culinary training to help students be successful in a variety of professional culinary roles. Students learn principles related to the preparation of pastry and baked goods, American cuisine, catering, Garde Manger, and international cuisine preparation. Students complete an externship experience in a professional kitchen to master their culinary skills. The Institute of Technology is accredited by the American Culinary Federation.
#9. Diablo Valley College-Pleasant Hill, California
Culinary Programs: AS in Baking and Pastry; AS in Culinary; AS in Restaurant Management; Certificate in Baking and Pastry; Certificate in Culinary Arts; Certificate in Restaurant Management
Diablo Valley College is a top culinary school with programs in restaurant management, culinary arts, and baking and pastry. Students in the associate degree programs have the opportunity to complete an internship opportunity to gain professional outside experience in the culinary industry. Baking and Pastry students have access to a fully equipped professional kitchen, demonstration laboratory, and a retail pastry shop where they can sell their baked goods. Culinary Arts students have access to the same amenities including the ability to work in the Noreseman Restaurant and the Express Bar. Both the Norseman Restaurant and the Express Bar are student run establishments where advanced culinary students have the opportunity to gain serving and food preparation experience.
#8. Art Institute of California-Sacramento-Sacramento, California
Culinary Programs: Art of Cooking Diploma; Associate of Science Degree in Baking and Pastry; Associate of Science Degree in Culinary; Bachelor of Science Degree in Culinary Management; Baking and Pastry Diploma
The Art Institute of California is a top culinary school featuring a variety of programs for all levels of culinary professionals. For students just starting out, diploma programs are available in the Art of Cooking and Baking and Pastry. Students will learn basic skills related to food production to prepare them for entry level positions in bakeries, restaurants, and hotels. Associate degree students have the opportunity to complete an externship opportunity and are prepared for more advanced positions. For students interested in management positions, the bachelor’s degree programs feature coursework in management skills, human resources, marketing, and employee relations.
#7. International Culinary Center-Campbell, California
Culinary Programs: Professional Culinary Arts; Professional Culinary Arts + Farm to Table Intensive
The International Culinary Center offers both a Culinary Arts program with the opportunity to add on a Farm-to-Table Intensive. Students can complete either program in just six to nine months of study. Culinary students learn by the unique Total Immersion approach where students learn classic cooking techniques from the first day of class. Students receive plenty of individualized attention with a 12:1 student/faculty ratio. A 200 clock hour externship opportunity is the final phase of the programs, allowing students to demonstrate their skills in a professional work setting. ICC also provides the opportunity for students interested in farm-to-table principles to experience field trips and farm experiences.
#6. San Diego Culinary Institute-San Diego, California
Culinary Programs: Advanced Professional Diploma in Cuisine Commis Culinary; Advanced Professional Diploma in Pastry
The San Diego Culinary Institute is a top accredited culinary school offering diploma programs both in the culinary arts and in pastry arts. Cuisine Commis Culinary students spend about 80% of their studies in the kitchen, completing coursework in a logical sequence, learning culinary techniques. The Commis method focuses on technique rather than recipe learning. Pastry students learn the science behind their creations, while spending most of their time in the kitchen. Both programs feature an externship opportunity where students work off site at a culinary venue for 220 clock hours to gain professional experience.
#5. Los Angeles Trade-Tech College-Los Angeles, California
Culinary Programs: AA Degree in Culinary Arts (exemplary); AA Degree in Professional Baking
Culinary Students at the Los Angeles Trade-Tech College spend time working in the kitchen throughout their entire program. As one of the oldest culinary programs in the country, LATTC has perfected the art of training culinary professionals. Los Angeles Trade-Tech College Degree programs are accredited by the American Culinary Federation, an indicator of a quality culinary arts program. The learning environment includes commercial kitchens, an on campus restaurant, cafeteria, and catering service. Students are engaged in a variety of professional development opportunities including culinary competitions, field trips, and the opportunity to listen to guest lecturers.
#4. Culinary Institute of America at Greystone-St. Helena, California
Culinary Degree Programs: AOS in Culinary Arts; AOS in Baking and Pastry Arts; Certificate Programs in Culinary Arts and Wine and Beverage Studies
The Culinary Institute of America is one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the United States. CIA features traditional culinary arts programs as well as specialty programs such as Wine and Beverage Studies and Baking and Pastry Arts. The learning environment is state-of-the-art and features professional kitchen labs and instruction in farm-to-table practices. Student run restaurants including The Bakery Café by illy and Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant allow students to gain professional experience. Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant features an open kitchen and serves meals made with fresh ingredients from the CIA farm and garden.
#3. Orange Coast College-Costa Mesa, California
Culinary Programs: AA Degree in Culinary Arts; AS Degree in Advanced Baking and Pastry; Certificate in Advanced Baking and Pastry; Certificate in Advanced Culinary Arts
Orange Coast College is a top culinary school accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Students have the opportunity to gain work experience at the Captain’s Table Dining Room, a student run restaurant on campus. Students prepare and serve meals each week for up to 100 people at the restaurant. Professional development opportunities including joining the culinary competition team which won the National Championship in 2005 for their outstanding skills and abilities in the culinary arts. Students at Orange Coast have access to a modern learning environment which includes a state-of-the-art professional kitchen where students work side-by-side with culinary staff.
#2. Columbia College-Sonora, California
Culinary Programs: AS Degree with an emphasis in Culinary Arts; AS Degree with an emphasis in Restaurant Management; Associate in Science-Occupational Education (ASOE): Chef; ASOE-Dinner Line Cook; ASOE-Pastry and Dessert Chef; ASOE-Restaurant Management; Certificate of Achievement (COA)-Chef; COA-Dinner Line Cook; COA-Pastry and Dessert Chef; COA-Restaurant Management; Skills Attainment Certificates for Baker, Baking for Entrepreneurs, Bartender, Chef for Entrepreneurs, Deli Cook and Baker, Dining Room Management, Dining Room Staff, Safety and Sanitation
Columbia College has an extensive offering of culinary programs for every level of culinary professional. Students interact with faculty in an environment that supports career training and professional development. Columbia College is accredited by the American Culinary Federation. A wide variety of skills are taught, including wine making, fine dining room management, advanced classical cuisine preparation and beverage management. Students at Columbia College have the opportunity to complete internship opportunities to gain professional experience in the field before they join the workforce.
#1. The Art Institute of California-Orange County-Santa Ana, California
Culinary Programs: Associate of Science-Baking and Pastry; Associate of Science-Culinary Arts; Bachelor of Science-Culinary Management; Diploma-Art of Cooking; Diploma-Baking and Pastry
The Art Institute of California at Orange County features an impressive list of culinary arts programs including both diploma and degree options. Students can earn their Bachelor of Science degree in Culinary Management, learning the skills necessary to become successful managers and leaders in the industry. An internship and capstone project are required as part of the course to allow students to obtain hands-on professional experience. Baking and Pastry students as well as Culinary Arts students pursuing their Associate’s degree complete coursework related to cost control, menu design, dining room operation, and kitchen management. The Art Institute of California has state-of-the-art kitchen equipment and award winning instructors which make this one of the best culinary programs in California.